Posted on Friday, June 09, 2017 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

 

There is no avoiding the fact that there are deep divisions within the PCA. When “us versus them” language is used routinely it is clear that we have separated into competing camps. That is sad but certainly not unprecedented. These sorts of divisions and competing visions seem to always happen within denominations. I also know that all of us in the PCA, regardless of which side we find ourselves on, truly desire the denomination to be God-glorifying.
 

General Assembly 2017 will be gathering in Greensboro, NC next week. Committee members will begin arriving Sunday and Monday to begin their work. On Tuesday evening the Assembly will gather to worship and begin its business. Please pray that the Lord’s church will be well cared for during those days.
 

The following are a few hopes I have for myself during that week and beyond:

 

That I would pray before I speak.

That I would take my thoughts captive for Christ.

That I would be hopeful and not cynical.

That I would assume the best about my brothers with whom I disagree.

That I would rejoice in any news that the gospel is being made known.

That I would not see any of my brothers as an enemy.
 

These are all things in which I need to grow. I will keep this list before me during the week. I trust that by God’s grace I will continue to see progress in my life.
 

I am a conservative. That’s no surprise. I don’t want the PCA drift leftward as most denominations tend to do. In order to keep that from happening, strong stands will have to be taken. People will need to be willing to be accused of being strident and harsh. Certain overtures will need to be opposed or championed. I understand that. I hope to contribute whatever may be helpful and carefully avoid being counterproductive. Most of all I hope to, along with our Lord’s church, be more thoroughly conformed to Christ.
 

Posted on Tuesday, June 06, 2017 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

 

Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom by Thomas Ricks
I’m a few chapters into this and am already hooked. It is the story of how these two men, so different from each other, found a common cause in the defeat of tyranny. The author also demonstrates the power of ideas when they are clearly and compellingly spoken and written.  
 

The Holocaust: A New History by Laurence Rees
I’ve read the first chapter. Already the author is exploring the origins of the antisemitism which fueled the Holocaust. What is emerging is the troubling portrait of a sophisticated and resilient people who allowed themselves to accept or ignore unimaginable evil.

 

 

Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King
My plan is to begin digging into this by July.
 

The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power by Robert Caro
I began reading this in early May. It is the first of Caro’s three-volume masterpiece on the life of Lyndon Johnson. If you are wondering whether Johnson’s life is all that interesting, I understand. I had the same suspicions. But interesting would be an understatement. This is a thick, dense and utterly readable book. I look forward to each night that I am able to open this one up. It is shaping up to be one of the most pleasurable reading experiences I have had in a long time. 
 

 

In Search of Churchill by Martin Gilbert
I have never attempted to trek through Gilbert’s massive 13 volume biography of Churchill (yes, 13 volumes). In this book Gilbert recounts his thirty year trek to understand his subject. Along the way Gilbert provides a look at Churchill through the eyes of fellow statesmen, soldiers, correspondents, and close associates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on Monday, May 22, 2017 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

 

Congratulations are in order to our own Carl Trueman.
 

He will be the William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life at Princeton University for academic year 2017-18.  It is part of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton. The Director of the program is Professor Robert P George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University. If you are not familiar with the work of Robert George you ought to be. He is one our finest thinkers on issues of religious freedom, religion in public life, marriage, and gender.
 

Carl is writing a book that is at least provisionally entitled Christianity and Its Discontents. The aim of the book is to help Christians understand why things like transgenderism have gained the upper hand in the public square and why religion, or at least traditional religious ethics, have become not simply intellectually implausible but morally offensive in the contemporary Western world.  
 

Carl tells me he will be drawing on a number of older authors (Augustine, Aquinas and Pascal) and also on key contemporary thinkers – Alasdair Macintyre, Philip Rieff, and Charles Taylor – to see how the understanding of human personhood as both a psychological and a social construct now dominates the cultural landscape – and, indeed, is even starting to pervade Christian circles.
 

This is an exciting opportunity. Protestants desperately need learned and effective voices addressing these issues in the public square.
 

I’m hoping to get a Princeton coffee mug or sweatshirt out of the deal. I’ve always wanted to pretend I was a Princeton graduate.
 
 

Posted on Thursday, May 18, 2017 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

 

The one and only Simonetta Carr will now be a contributing writer for the already excellent Place for Truth. If you are not familiar with Simonetta or her writing I would encourage you to check her out. Her beautifully written and illustrated biographies are worth adding to your library.

 

Simonetta’s first piece for Place for Truth is a sketch of Peter Martyr Vermigli. If you are wondering whether or not it is good to know about Vermigli let Simonetta encourage you.

 

Posted on Monday, May 08, 2017 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

 

In a helpful post, Dr. Gabriel Williams addresses certain challenges in the current discussions regarding race and reconciliation. With so much noise and tension and knee-jerk assumptions filling our conversations on race, a calm voice shaped by biblical categories is desperately needed. Dr. Williams is proving to be that sort of voice. You may be familiar with Dr. Williams from the excellent podcast responding to the notion of "gender apartheid" that erupted a few weeks back.

 

Williams points out that repentence is both necessary and slow. Just as repentance is often a progressive work in the lives of individual believers, so too will the fruit of repentance be rather plodding when it comes to groups of people (churches and denominations).

When a denomination or local church has failed to address pertinent social evils within its ranks in the past, it should not be expected that the full fruits of repentance will occur immediately. Rather, we should expect that the work of the gospel within the church will be slow but steady.

This is a call for forbearance and love, with a long-term view of growing in holiness. Whether we are correcting sins towards minorities or towards women, we should expect that it will take many years (perhaps multiple generations) to fully see the fruits of repentance. Courage is required to stand against long-standing sins, but patience is needed to see God gradually produce the fruits of repentance. May we work through these issues with godly sincerity and with assurance that God will complete this work within his church.
 

Dr. Williams also addresses the problem of applying categories of thought borrowed from secular academics to issues related to race and racial reconciliation within the church. One of the things that has caused concern among many who are reading the material on race being written within the neo-reformed community is that much of it seems to be shaped by secular social theories. Many of these constructs, having arisen from 19th century liberalism and Marxism, are antithetical to Christianity. They simply cannot be zipped onto the gospel and made Christian.

 

We ought to look to the Scriptures which provide the church with a peculiar vocabulary with which to discuss matters of sin, division, and strife. Dr. Williams makes the following helpful observation:

Although we can learn much from non-Christian researchers (thanks to God’s common grace), we must never assume that academic language and/or theory is morally neutral. In reality, many of the interpretations of sociological phenomena stem from either a non-Christian or even an anti-Christian framework.

It is my experience that Christians can naturally discern this when applied to other academic fields. For example, when Christians speak about the historicity of the Scriptures, we don’t use the naturalistic presuppositions of critical historians and treat the Scriptures as mythology. The same type of discernment should be applied when discussing sociological concepts within the church. When Christians speak about social interactions within the church through the lens of power dynamics, social stratification, and intersectionality, we are not invoking sociological categories that are amoral. The social conflicts of the 20th century demonstrate that it is naïve to believe that academic research is purely objective when interpreting social phenomena; rather, it’s often used as a tool to re-order societal norms.

When these sociological categories are applied to the church, we often invoke tendentious perceptions that see the institutional church itself as being inherently oppressive to minorities and to women.
 

May we continue to pray for the unity and witness of the church. May the Lord grant us grace and wisdom in our dealings with one another. And may we not depart from the mission and the means which our Lord has given us to make disciples of the nations.

 

Posted on Tuesday, April 25, 2017 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

 

First Presbyterian Church of Montgomery, Alabama (PCA) is providing a great example for other churches with histories of racism.

 

I encourage you to read the story HERE and pray for the continued health of this congregation and their impact on their community.

 

We should also offer thanks for the leadership of Pastor Reed DePace whose commitment to the gospel of the Lord Jesus is at the core of this process of repentance.

 

Posted on Wednesday, April 12, 2017 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

 

J. Gresham Machen died of pneumonia on January 1, 1937 while on a trip to Bismarck, North Dakota. He was there to teach and preach in an effort to shore of the strength of the congregations in the newly established Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

Upon news of Machen’s death tributes poured in from around the world. Many were notable. Several however were (and are) especially noteworthy because of the authors. One was composed by H.L. Mencken the famed newspaperman and outspoken atheist and opponent of Christianity. Nevertheless, of Machen, Menken wrote in the Baltimore Sun:

He saw clearly that the only effects that could follow diluting and polluting Christianity in the modernist manner would be its complete abandonment and ruin. Either it was true or it was not true. If, as he believed, it was true, then there could be no compromise with persons who sought to whittle away its essential postulates, however respectable their motives.

Thus he fell out with the reformers who have been trying, in late years, to convert the Presbyterian Church into a kind of literary and social club, devoted to vaguely good works…

His one and only purpose was to hold it resolutely to what he conceived to be the truth faith. When that enterprise met with opposition he fought vigorously, and though he lost in the end and was forced out of Princeton it must be manifest that he marched off to Philadelphia with all the honors of war.
 

Another notable eulogy came from Pearl S. Buck the famed novelist and Presbyterian missionary to China. Machen had made clear his opposition to Buck because of her abandonment of the gospel and denial of the need for conversion to Christ. Nevertheless Buck wrote:

We have lost a man whom our times can ill spare, a man who had convictions which were real to him and who fought for those convictions and held to them through every change in time and human thought. There was power in him which was positive in its very negations. He was worth a hundred of his fellows who, as princes of the church, occupy easy places and play their church politics and trim their sails to every wind, who in their smug observance of the convictions of life and religion offend all honest and searching spirits. No forthright mind can live among them, neither the honest skeptic nor the honest dogmatist. I wish Dr. Machen had lived to go on fighting them (emphasis mine).
 

Posted on Monday, April 10, 2017 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

 

“You can catch more bees with honey than with vinegar.”

It is a good saying. And it is undoubtedly true. Bees seem invariably to prefer honey over vinegar.
 

But what if the purpose is not to attract bees? What if your purpose is to warn bees away from a danger far greater than the bad taste of vinegar? In that case the application of honey is downright cruel.
 

In our discourse there are times when an irenic approach fits most appropriately the goal of the moment. May God give us (and by “us” I mean primarily “me”) greater reservoirs of gentleness and patience. But I would suggest that there are times when irenic engagement is far worse than unhelpful. There are times when sweet words are deceptive.
 

For example if you saw a man ingesting poison you would not take your time, sleep on it, consider your words cautiously so as not to offend before suggesting in soft tones that perhaps the poison he is consuming will not maximize his flourishing.
 

Don’t misunderstand. I am someone who fully accepts the fact that my tendency is to err on the side of too much vinegar. Believe it or not, I don’t like that about myself. I want to become more disciplined in taking time before speaking. I want to become a better listener. But I also plead with those for whom vinegar never seems to be the appropriate ingredient to our discourse to consider if perhaps their preference for honey may sometimes be driven more by distaste for conflict than a love for others.
 

When people like me pour out vinegar it is usually not because we do not love others. It is usually because we are zealous for God’s truth and we find a direct correspondence between zeal for the truth and love for others. Do we…do I get it wrong sometimes? Sadly, yes. I wish I never got it wrong. But I do.
 

However, I wonder how often an irenic tone has communicated to the hearer that the matter being addressed is not serious? Does constant irenicism unintentionally communicate that all matters can be shrugged off into the “it just doesn’t matter than much” category? I know that there are times when a harsh tone can exaggerate the relative importance of an issue. But is the reverse not also true?
 

And let us also examine our own preferred cultural aesthetics. We have generally become a much softer people than past generations. As tough as I can be at times with my words I’ve never once called a group of people a “brood of vipers” (Matt. 3:7; 12:34; 23:33). I’ve never made a whip and driven anyone out of a holy place (John 2:13ff). Nor have I ever come close to suggesting that anyone castrate themselves (Gal. 5:12). Compared to Paul and Jesus I usually sound like Zig Ziglar.
 

I am not calling for an end to irenic engagement. Far from it. Indeed, I desire to add more of that quality to my own speech. But let us remember that God chastised the unfaithful shepherds of Jeremiah’s day for healing “the wound of my people lightly” (Jer. 6:14; 8:11). He rebuked them for saying, “peace, peace when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14; 8:11). There are times when a soft tone masks the truth and hides the need for repentance.
 

I value my brothers who excel at being irenic. I need their influence in my life. I need to be more like them. But is it not also true that the hard word in hard tones is necessary when the gospel is at stake? When godliness is at stake? When ministerial faithfulness is at stake? When the church’s witness is at stake?
 

So, today I pledge that I will work harder to add more honey to my repertoire. But I also encourage my more naturally irenic brothers to consider from time-to-time the positive uses of a bit of vinegar.

 

Posted on Saturday, April 08, 2017 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

 

Rachel Miller over at A Daughter of the Reformation (a blog you ought to read) has written an excellent post on anxiety. I encourage you to read it and pass it along.

 

You may also want to check out a sermon I recently preached from Philippians 4:4-7 entitled "Living in Light of the Nearness of God" where I address Paul's words, "Do not be anxious for anything."

 

Posted on Friday, April 07, 2017 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

 

It only took 43 years for the Northern Presbyterian church to move from defrocking Charles Briggs for advancing higher criticism to defrocking J. Gresham Machen. That is a titanic shift in what is essentially only two generations.